By Breeann Kirby
There are now over 3 million Syrian refugees, the video begins. Stark white words on black to state a stark message: 3 million is more than the population of most cities. And all of these people no longer have a home. In the Zaatari Refugee Camp alone, opened in July 2012 outside of Jordan, the current estimation of inhabitants is over 82,000 people—the same population as Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Despite living in an arid landscape in tents and shipping containers, the people in Zaatari are building lives away from their war-ravaged homes. Author Neil Gaiman, who visited this camp in May 2014 to make a video for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), had his heart broken and then rebuilt by the individual stories of the inhabitants of Zaatari. In the face of their suffering, they have built hope, as Gaiman puts it, in doing “what family does best which is look[ing] out for each other.” However, this hope may be as “paper thin” as Gaiman claims civilization to be with the coming winter and lack of funds for food.
Regardless of personal politics or prejudices, one thing stands out as starkly as white text on a black background: refugees are humans—fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends, and families. These families can’t go home, may never go home, and in their flight to safety have had to leave behind much of what they loved. These families are the living example of the failure of humanity as we tear each other apart with wars and other violence. However, they are not reduced to that stigma. Each person has an individual story that reminds us of their basic humanity, their presence in our human family. And as part of the family, we need to continue to help because as long as one person lacks a home, we all are homeless.
How we treat, remember, and act for others is what defines who we are as humans.
These refugees, “they were us,” Gaiman reminds the viewers. But I would add that they are us. How we treat, remember, and act for others is what defines who we are as humans. To forget about suffering, to cease to act against human suffering, is to forget our essential humanity.
This month, I challenge all of us to remember those who are displaced, cold, and hungry yet loving, hopeful, and joyous. Remember that we all are a mix of those things too. Then do something that cares for the family of humanity.
Go to the UN Refugee Agency’s website to learn more and make a donation to help our fellow family members.